1. Brand New Art, In the Brand New World:

By Art Historian - Johny ML | Issue 01 | SEPT 20

The world, they say, cannot be the same once the Covid-19 impact is gone. Skeptics add, would there be a scenario where Covid-19 is completely gone. The optimism in the former statement and the pessimism expressed in the latter in fact are the sentiments that prevail all over the world today. Change has always been there unchanged with or without a pandemic; only thing is that we do not notice. A pandemic creates an unprecedented and unprepared for rupture that would take many years to repair. But life has to go on in the previous or in an altered fashion. Symptoms and signals are already there; the very sight of people wearing mask is not only a sign of virus deterrence but also a change in the way people perceive themselves as ‘dressed’ in the society. So are the several small and big adjustments that people all over the world have been taking since the outbreak of the Corona Virus. In this context, be sure, art cannot be the same as the pre-Covid-19 days for art is a product of the human imagination and the societies imagined, realized and activated by them. One of the major concerns of the artists has been this; would all the avenues of exhibiting art be closed forever and be relocated in the virtual spaces? For many years, since the advent of the virtual space, artists have been using this space to circulate their aesthetical works and also to find new commercial and profitable avenues elsewhere other than their places of origin. Virtually the geographical borders of art dissemination came to be dissolved in this process and shift of the global art market to the virtual platforms also facilitated free flowing of art works and finance across the world producing larger networks of aesthetical and business interests. Today, even the provincial artists find their fans and followers from across the globe irrespective of their cultural affiliations. However, there is a sense of dejection among the artists whose die-hard belief in the very act of viewing a work of art in its original. The concern is legitimate and has to be addressed with due respect and care. Art, they feel has to be seen directly for a fuller and all round aesthetical experience.

If you ask, whether such direct appraisal and enjoyment of the works of art have been happening all these centuries, the answer would be a big NO. Art has always gone places through various mediums, mainly in print and partly through televised images and broadcasted stories about the art and artists. All these while, for a larger public art meant only aesthetical and cultural elevation, not really the flow of economics, which is rather a recent revelation though it has been there always latent in the productiondissemination-commerce circuit.

Mr. Johny ML - Art Historian / Cultural Critic / Art Curator / Art Writer

Perhaps, this underlying fact was a sort of ‘willing suspension of disbelief’. Everyone knew that commerce was there but overlooking it for a ‘larger’ benefit was always soothing for the viewer section of the society. However, the territorial understanding of corporeal enjoyment of art where the work of art, the place of exhibition and the viewer are in the same place, has gained a mythical stature and also unquestionable authority of/on viewing. The world of tourism flourishes in this canonical approach that the viewer and the work of art should be corporeally present in the same place.

Covid-19 has scandalized and vandalized this canonical understanding about art. While the museums and galleries remain closed for over three months the artists all over the world have found various ways of showing their works through different communication channels that predominantly are the manifestation of the large virtual space that has brought world under its all perceiving sky/eye. This in effect has caused a reimagination about viewing art and also the corporeal involvement of it. It could be a sort of decentralization of art viewing as well as a deconstruction of the museums and galleries that have grown to mythological proportions during the last five centuries of so. However, if you look at the process of this deconstruction carefully, you could see that it has been happening simultaneously with the advent of the virtual space even before the pandemic has struck. There were initial resistances regarding viewing the works of art in a virtual space and were ‘condemned’ to be ‘reference-viewing’ or rather viewing for reference purposes with an intention to gather information and form a general idea about what is happening in the museums and galleries elsewhere. But that stands changed today. Had the reference viewing been for gathering information regarding art, today the very same thing has become the new way of ‘normal’ viewing, replacing or displacing the former corporeal viewing of art. That is the new normal today.

 

And the days are not that far when the commerce of art also would shift base completely to the virtual platforms. It has been so though partially and the new situation has forced one and all to re-imagine the virtual platforms even for art commerce. This means the rei-magining of the very making of the art and artists themselves. How do they operate in this newly created scenario? How do they create their works for aesthetical and commercial viewing? How do they present themselves as artistic personalities in the postpandemic era? How the ideas about art could refashion the very thinking about art viewing? All these questions matter though we need to find answers in the procedural fashion, mixing both works, practice, viewing and theories regarding all of these.

I remember myself in 2015, sitting and writing about the drawings of Shilpa Gupta, a major artist in contemporary Indian art scene, which were exhibited in a prominent gallery in Delhi. I was in Trivandrum on a visit and it was sure that I would miss catching up with it as it was going to close before I returned to Delhi. Hence thought of looking at the works in the gallery web site and doing an appreciative writing and I did write and publish it in my blog. 

I had mentioned that I did the writing remotely, without seeing the works in person. Soon came criticism from different quarters questioning ‘authenticity’ of such writing created out of ‘not seeing’ the work (in person). I held on to my argument that it was not necessary always to see a work of art in person if the viewer knew the oeuvre of the artist in question or on display. Five years down the line, we are in a spot where we could do no art writing after seeing the works in person. I had not anticipated a pandemic then but I did know that there would be a day when the critical literature regarding art could happen without the critic going to the museums and galleries in person.I held on to my argument that it was not necessary always to see a work of art in person if the viewer knew the oeuvre of the artist in question or on display. Five years down the line, we are in a spot where we could do no art writing after seeing the works in person. I had not anticipated a pandemic then but I did know that there would be a day when the critical literature regarding art could happen without the critic going to the museums and galleries in person.

Looking at the way the galleries and museums function today (a sort of Work from Home!) one could easily gather that the shift to the virtual spaces has already happened. The technicians of the major museums and commercial galleries have been working overtime to create virtual tours of the halls, galleries and corridors, almost capable of giving real time experiences. Then it was considered as a technological feat than a practical solution or alternative to the very viewing experience of art. The more technologically advanced that you appeared the more you found yourself and your institution at the ‘fad’ end of events. But today the posturing has become a permanent feature. And the art viewing has changed. It has to be said that with the real spaces closing down for various reasons including non-commercial viability and lack of attendance (the rich and powerful patrons would be wary of the viruses in the galleries) it is not the galleries and museums that change the tack and track alone but it also forces the artists to change the very mode of art production. It could vary from downsizing the scale to the making of art to fit into the ever evolving digital space.

"COVID-19 HAS SCANDALIZED AND VANDALIZED THIS CANONICAL UNDERSTANDING ABOUT ART."

I am not a sci-fi writer or fan who would turn every existing bit of reality into a horrifying futuristic event in sharp, deep and unearthly colors. I say that the real spaces also would evolve along with this process. When everything is relocated to the virtual spaces what as human beings we lose is the warmth of sociality and kindness, two civilizational foundations that the human beings have generated out of millions of years of evolution. That means the collapse of humanity and the very ethical sense of living which in the long run would turn us into monsters, no doubt. The role of the art and artists (and also the creative people from science, humanities, fashion and all such fields) is to create spaces (alternative or mainstream, within architectural specificities or in the open spaces like streets) that could bring people back for real time human interactions.

 

It boosts the purpose of living and creating; it enhances and maintains the need for equal rights and justice for people and nature; it keeps the people political, the absence of which could render people into workers that protect the nest and perish in the long run without creating anything because being political is the only way to be alive and creative. Hence, reimagining the places of meeting is also a major concern for the artists today.Though in limited numbers people are supposed to meet and maintain the engine of civilizational progress. Art is fuel of living, so art is not going to die so long as humans live on. But the perishability code has been inscribed already with the pandemic, resultant culling and genetic modification. The recoding could happen only through the reprogramming of everything, imagined and practiced through the deliberate and beautiful convergence of art and science.

ART HAS ALWAYS GONE PLACES THROUGH VARIOUS MEDIUMS, MAINLY IN PRINT AND PARTLY THROUGH TELEVISED IMAGES AND BROADCASTED STORIES ABOUT THE ART AND ARTISTS." - Johny ML

2. Art and the Question of Authorship and Ownership in the Internet Era:

By Narendra Raghunath | Issue 01 | SEPT 2020

In this article, Narendra Raghunath, Visual Artist and faculty, Srishti Institute of Art, Design and Technology, Bangalore draws on personal experience and discusses the complexities of authenticity, authorship and ownership rights of art and the image in the contemporary art world.

A couple of years ago, I received an odd request from an unknown person in New York, to authenticate two works of mine. The work looked like mine, except it had some colour fading. It also had my name on the left bottom part in English, as I often write. The only problem was I had no Idea of such a sale or transfer. On further inquiry, I learnt that he sourced the work from a struggling Indian art student. During those days, if anyone would image search my work, Google strangely enough, showed a popular Hollywood actress’s name! This Indian student smartly used that opportunity and somehow managed to convince this poor chap that this actress was a big collector of my work.

During that period, I also had a website where I occasionally published some of my explorations with the caption that ‘none of the works are for sale’. This smart student utilized all these to his advantage to fleece this investor – for a cool $4,800 - for the downloaded prints.But, once the collector began to have doubts about the signature in the authentication letter, he contacted me for verification. The entire episode filled me with mirth. I informed the buyer that there was a colour issue with the print and offered to send him a new set of prints of the same works with my pencil signature (courier costs to be borne by the collector). He happily agreed, and as I did not want the Indian student to get caught in a serious crime in the US, I left it that.

Mr. Narendra Raghunath - Art Writer /Art & Design Instructor / Faculty @Sristi Manipal Institute of Art, Design & Technology, Bangalore, India / Founding Member of Sidharth Foundation / Art &Design Consultant.

Leonardo da Vinci: Mona Lisa, oil on wood panel by Leonardo da Vinci, c. 1503–19; in the Louvre, Paris. PIC COURTESY @ Everett-Art/Shutterstock.com

This entire episode provoked me into a deep philosophical question of authenticity of authorship and ownership of an artwork. History of art is filled with stories where the artists and their families died in poverty while their work, later on, made many others billionaires.

If one would Google, one will find millions of photographs of the same artwork with million others’ copyright watermark on it. Cropped differently (composition) with altered colour schemes and digitally enhancements; most of them render the original work into oblivion. Before one jumps into an ethical or moral judgment about the entire affair, one may have to consider some serious philosophical artistic issues involved with image making in this entire affair. Allow me to explain in detail.

What is original in art - Labour/craft or concept?

This is a complicated question. In Western art, from the days of guild during Renaissance to today’s postmodern artists, a large section of artists would not be able to claim authorship of the craft of labour. Most of them are made to order or are supervised. So, one may have to safely discount that claim from the originality of art. Then comes the conceptual authorship. Usually in an artwork, there are three ways an artist executes an artwork – translation, transformation and transgression. Considering these three areas are largely dealt by curatorial conceptualization in postmodern art, it leaves very little room for the authenticity of authorship of the artwork.

Whereas in a film the director is only one of the authors in the creation of the film and due credit is given to others in the process of film making. In art, unfortunately, a single individual as the artist often claims the whole authorship. One would not hear the name of the craftsmen or other people involved in the execution of artworks. There are many conceptualizations involved in every artwork- technical, spatial, curatorial and finally aesthetical conceptualizations. In other words, it becomes a problematic argument when one considers the authenticity of authorship by a single individual.

Work of art and its image reproductions:

As I mentioned earlier, on the Internet one will find millions of image reproductions of the same artwork with hundreds of copyrights for the photography. In other words, the authenticity of the authorship gets separated from artwork in its image reproduction as a photograph. Considering both are artistic mediums and artists execute both, one cannot claim the authorship of the other. In other words, one has the artistic liberty for a selective recreation of another artwork in its image reproduction! From Greek time onward, this viewer prerogative to reinterpret an artwork as observer in observer- observed and observation triangulation is already a settled subject. This makes the authenticity of authorship complex phenomena in art world. If an artist makes claim of authorship on a craftsman’s labour in transforming a media (kindly note an artist is not selling art but sells its material transformation) and a photographer claims authorship of its image reproduction and then a digital media artist claims authorship of reproduction’s reproduction, in today’s contemporary art world authenticity and authorship becomes a complex issue.

From that US-based Indian student (although I do not know who this person is) I started experimenting with transgressing into master’s works to transform them into historical and theoretical artworks. Still, as I am an old school ethics follower, I do not claim ownership of these works. I only claim the viewer’s transformative inference authorship in such artworks. My experiments are still going on, getting more and more insights into this complex world of authorship and ownership. Considering no collector or buyer can claim ownership of art but can only claim the ownership of artwork, in today’s world these collectors cannot claim ownership of its image reproduction, unless and until they commission it or buy its rights. Considering artworks are reproduced in critique and reviews in textual format and it is legal, artists cannot take away the viewers inference right in image format as well.

3. SAURA ART: An Ancient Indian tribe's tale through its captivating art:

By Surabhi Bala | Issue 01 | SEPT 2020

In this article, Surabhi share about 'Saura art' that has been telling the tribal tale for hundreds of years, with basic forms and figures that come together to compose complex narratives in very few colours.A tribal artform from eastern India, Saura art began on the walls of village homes with its ritualistic origins to become one of India's most beautiful art forms of pride.

The Sauras are one of the oldest tribes in India, inhabiting the southern region in Odisha. The Sauras are known for their distinct tribal culture and art with a background that has been stated in the Ramayana and Mahabharata. A community deeply connected to nature, their surface art seems to be a simplified representation of daily life in the village. But the Sauras art is rich with symbolism and significance, and it is through these pictures and their understanding that the people of Saura hang on to their traditions and culture. For the Sauras who have no script in their language, their art is a record of their history , philosophy, and religious traditions.

Saura art is usually made on the villagers' red or brown clay walls, with natural colors made from dirt, white stone, and extracts of flowers and leaves, using a tender bamboo brush. The paintings are typically dedicated to Sauras' god, known as Idital, and are made during special occasions such as harvest, birth, marriage, etc...The characters in Saura 's artworks are called idols or images, and many of them are recurrent motifs and metaphors, such as humans, the tree of life, the sun and moon, goats, elephants, many of which have their own significance. Historically, only priests were able to render these wall paintings. They would also describe their origins to the village residents, passing on local traditions and beliefs in a special oral tradition.

SAURA ART PAINTING BY MANAS DAS

HOW SAURA IS DIFFERENT FROM WARLI?

Saura seems to be the exact twin of another, perhaps better known form of Indian tribal art-Warli. The two art styles are often identical, consisting of similar geometrical shapes, often in similar shades of earthen colours. Still, there are minor variations between the two, from the arrangement of the structures to the shape they are positioned in, which distinguishes each form! Boundary is first drawn in a Saura painting after which the interiors are filled which is called the fishnet technique. The Saura forms are broader and more elongated than those found in Warli art, without any visible distinction between male and female shapes. The pictograms are divided into various parts according to their significance and intent. Usually the painting portrays the everyday events of Sauras life. Saura figures are less linear than the Warli figures, where the human form is defined by two sharp triangles merged at the apex.

ETHNOLOGY AND ROCK ART IN INDIA SAURA ART IN COLOR/ WALL ART IMAGE SOURCE @BRADSHAW FOUNDATION

WARLI ART PHOTO CREDIT @NISHA

IN THE MODERN WORLD

In the 21st century Saura art underwent several transformations. An art that started on mud walls as murals, now it's everywhere, from sarees to notebook coverings. It has recently acquired a decorative appeal, with many purchasing Saura art for their homes. Saura artists have also begun working with more compact materials such as canvas and paper for modern technologies such as acrylic s and pen and ink. Another fascinating trend in Saura painting, as seen in other Indian tribal art forms as well,is the gradual inclusion of western elements in the depicted images and subjects.Looking at a simple art form that has been untouched for years is also a beautiful thing, and then seeing a bus in the painting, drawn in modern style, standing perfectly in place.

SAURA ART IN WALL HANGINGS PIC CREDIT @DHOKRA

SAURA MOTIFS ON SAREE, IMAGE SOURCE JHARONKA.COM

Saura art is not only stunning to look at, it is also interesting with its eye-catching imagery and cultural meaning, as the voice of a tribe expressing its own story in a manner that is authentic and original. One of the most interesting tribal art forms in India, Saura is a gem that contributes too much value to the tapestry of the cultural diversity in India.